Next week we will begin a series on 5 different cities in northeast Italy that Missouri Baptists are partnering with. My hope is that our churches will begin to partner in the entire Veneto region and beyond. Before we begin our series, we want to cast light on the very real spiritual darkness in Italy.
The aisles are beginning to fill up and people stream past me to take their seats. A man with a black book in hand approaches the podium. You may think that I’m getting ready to enjoy a sermon by any number of qualified Missouri Baptist preachers, but in actuality, I’m about ready to witness an act of idolatry.
I am standing in the cathedral of Saint Anthony in Padova, Italy, a city in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. I am with a group of Missouri Baptists who are partnering with the very difficult work being done to take the gospel to this area of Italy. I do not know much about Saint Anthony, but I know that he is one of many saints Italians pray to. In fact, Jesus is also considered a saint along with Saint Anthony. He’s the 5th most popular saint they pray to. The people walking past me are here for Mass. Some of them have already stopped to place their hands on the tomb of Saint Anthony in hopes of receiving a blessing for their lives as they pray to him. Now they take their place in the rows of chairs to hear from a priest who has most likely taught them to forsake the concept of studying the Bible on their own.
This is the spiritual reality of Italy. Catholic culture is based on saints and the worship of saints. When you have a problem, you pray to one saint. When you need something, you go to another saint. When you’re feeling blessed, you give credit to a saint. But the lack of understanding of the true gospel goes even deeper.
Prior to my journey into the cathedral, an IMB missionary shared a chilling story of one of his Italian friends. He had been sharing the gospel with his friend when the issue of Mary’s virginity came up. His Italian friend emphatically proclaimed that Mary remained a virgin until her death and even brought his Catholic priest to tell his American friend why he was wrong. “This is why we discourage you from reading the Bible, because it’s too much for you to understand,” the priest said.
With this story in mind, tears begin to stream down my face as I stare up into the beautiful cathedral while more and more elderly Italians walk past me for Mass. These people were not designed to worship all of this, God. Your desire for them is to worship you, and only you. I can’t help but think about the work that needs to be done, not only in Padova, but in all of northeast Italy and beyond. These people sitting in the chairs in front of me are filled with false hope. They place all of their hope in a prayer to a saint, or the routine of coming and begging some unknown God for grace because of the prayers they said that day or the good works they think they have done. They place all of their faith in a priest who does not point them to the gospel of Jesus, which is the most freeing news any person can ever hear.
My only hope that day comes from knowing that God is sovereign and He is not done with northeast Italy. He is raising up churches from Missouri to partner with the very few people who are tilling the spiritual soil of Italy. I cannot wait to see how God uses His weak people to accomplish something only He can accomplish.
Stay tuned next week when we will tell you exactly how your church can join in the important work that needs done in northeast Italy.
This post was written by Julie Masson, the Director of Missional Engagement at Emmaus Church in Kansas City. Julie is a blogger and social media strategist who is passionate about the nations hearing the gospel. She and her husband spent 2 years in Madrid, Spain on a N. African church planting team. You can follow Julie on Twitter at @juliermasson